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with Dan Neuharth, Ph.D., MFT

13 Reasons Why People Cheat on their Partners

Infidelity can end relationships.

In my 25 years as a marriage counselor I have repeatedly seen that affairs pose an existential threat to a relationship unlike almost anything else.

Some couples have open relationships by mutual agreement. But in relationships where the understanding is exclusivity, why do people cheat?

The reasons can matter. Some motivations for affairs are more likely than others to kill a relationship if the affair surfaces. Here are some of the most common reasons:

1) Fallen out of love

When partners feel no longer “in love” and lose hope that their feelings can be rekindled, one or both partners may seek love – real or imagined – elsewhere.

2) Fear of intimacy

Monogamy brings with it the possibility of deep intimacy. For some, a deep, enduring intimate connection may feel overwhelming or unsafe. An affair outside the relationship can create distance from one’s partner that allows them to stay in the relationship but avoid getting too close.

3) Lack of emotional or sexual connection

If a relationship becomes stale for a long time, some partners may seek emotional or physical closeness from others to fulfill their need for connection.

4) Met their “soulmate”

Sometimes people become enamored of someone else and feel that the newcomer is their destiny. In my experience, when people leave a long-term partner because they are convinced they have finally found their “soulmate,” the new relationships often fail to endure.

5) Revenge

Some partners who feel betrayed may seek to get even. Other times partners may feel deprived in a relationship and blame their partner. A straying partner may gain a sense of revenge from having an affair their partner never finds out about. Other times they let their partner know as a way to even the score, even punish or inflict hurt.

6) Life-cycle crisis, identity change or stressful life events

When people feel overwhelmed by a life transition or feel unsure who they are or where their life is going, it may feel as though all bets are off. They may explore an affair as part of finding a new identity or a way to cope with stress.

7) Conflict avoidance

Some couples avoid conflict for fear things might get out of hand. Some people lack confidence they can handle disagreements with their partner in a constructive way. But conflict is inevitable in relationships. Affairs can sometimes be a way of distracting from or releasing tension that builds up in a primary relationship.

8) Sex / Love addiction

Most of us relish the emotional high from falling in love. But once that emotional high wears off, some people may seek it elsewhere. Some partners may feel driven to have sex with multiple partners out of a sense of conquest. Others may crave the novelty that comes with a succession of new partners.

9) Entitlement

Some people, particularly those with narcissism, feel it is their right to cheat on their partners. They don’t value honesty and don’t like feeling “confined” by the norms of marriage.

10)  Opportunity

Some people who have affairs say “It just happened.” In my experience, affairs don’t just happen. It takes at least some intention and choice to go outside one’s relationship. But many affairs begin because of opportunity. Perhaps a partner spends a great deal of time with a co-worker and finds growing attraction. Perhaps a partner is traveling and finds willing partners for one-night stands.

11) To end the relationship

This can be among the most destructive type of affair. One partner decides he or she is done with the relationship and pursues an affair knowing that if it is discovered it will end the relationship. These “exit affairs” frequently are discovered because the cheating partner leaves clues, consciously or not, that nearly guarantee discovery.

12)  Lack of self esteem

If a partner feels empty or unworthy, the attention and affection from someone new can temporarily make them feel better about themselves.

13)  Test the waters

Sometimes one partner may be thinking about ending the relationship and wants to measure her or his attractiveness on the market. They may flirt or see if they can get physical with others as a way of finding out how readily available new partnerships might be if they left their existing relationship.

People have affairs for many reasons, often with multiple motivations. If you are in a relationship with infidelity, your relationship may or may not recover.

Affairs that are driven by entitlement, sex addiction, revenge, falling out of love, or a desire to end the relationship are especially difficult to move beyond.

On the other hand, affairs that come from a lack of connection, fear of intimacy, lack of self-esteem, or a life-cycle event may have a greater likelihood of survival.

If the straying partner comes clean, ends the affair and makes honest efforts to make amends, sometimes healing can begin. Then, if both partners are willing to do the work necessary to understand what led to the affair and repair their connection, many relationships can survive infidelity.

Copyright © Dan Neuharth PhD MFT

Photo credits:

Confronted partner photo by Mohamad Hassan
Threesome silhouette by ArtsyBee
Fingers cross photo by Tswedensky
Game over photo by Geralt
Grieving woman by Neoloky

13 Reasons Why People Cheat on their Partners

Dan Neuharth, Ph.D., MFT

Dan Neuharth, PhD, is a marriage and family therapist and best-selling author based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has more than 25 years’ experience providing individual, couples and family therapy. Dr. Neuharth is the author of If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace with Your Past and Take Your Place in the World. He writes two blogs for PsychCentral: Love Matters and Narcissism Decoded. He is licensed as a marriage and family therapist in California, Florida, Texas and Virginia. His website:

Please note: Dr. Neuharth's posts are for information and educational purposes only. These posts are not intended to be therapy or professional psychotherapeutic advice, and are not a replacement for psychotherapy. I cannot give psychotherapeutic advice about your individual situation outside of a therapist-client relationship. The posting of these blogs and the information therein does not constitute the formation of a therapist-client relationship. Please consult your physician or mental health provider for individual advice or support for your health and well-being. If you are in crisis, please call your local 24-hour crisis or mental health hotline or dial 911.

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APA Reference
Neuharth, D. (2019). 13 Reasons Why People Cheat on their Partners. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Jul 2019
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